Richard I. Queen, freed after eight months of captivity in Iran, returned to Washington yesterday for a joyful welcome from top State Department officials and further hospitalization for multiple sclerosis.
Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, who greeted the 28-year-old embassy vice consul at Andrews Air Force Base, hailed his release as a sign of humanitarian concern by Iranian militants and appealed to Tehran to free the remaining 52 American hostages.
"I think it is noteworthy that, as his captors sent him home, they made it clear that they were sending him home not to his government, but to his people. This is the first indication that we have had that his captors understand that the hostages are human beings -- that they are people with families back home," Muskie said.
Muskie, voicing what he termed a simple "human message," urged the militants to send the other hostages home -- "not to their government, but to their people and their families."
Queen, arriving after a 9 1/2 hour flight from West Germany aboard an Air Force C141 transport jet, walked haltingly from the plane. He wore a blue suit in yesterday afternoon's sultry heat.
"I really can't express in words what it's like to be back to America," Queen said during a brief news conference at the base. "I just wish that there were 52 more with me. There are 14 out now (13 black and female hostages were released last November) and 52 more to go."
Queen, released by Iranian authorities eight days ago after hospitalization in Tehran, was greeted yesterday with handshakes, kisses and a bouquet of yellow and white flowers, bound with a yellow ribbon. The flowers -- a symbol of hope -- were presented by Louisa Kennedy, wife of another hostage and a leader of a group formed by hostages' families.
His parents, Harold and Jeanne Queen, accompanied him on the flight. His brother, Alexandrer, 27, met him at the Air Force base. About 100 well-wishers cheered his arrival. Some carried a sign saying, "Welcome Richard." Some wept.
"You couldn't help but cry -- to be filled with their joy. They are tears of joy," said Leslie Leonard, who stood in the crowd.
After the welcome ceremonies, Queen was taken in a wheelchair to an Air Force ambulance and on to Georgetown University Hospital, where he is scheduled to undergo medical tests and evaluation this weekend.
"At this point, we are not certain how long Mr. Queen's hospitalization will be," said hospital administrator Charles O'Brien Jr. The hospital would provide no further statements about Queen's condition before Monday, he added.
Queen is in a private room in the hospital's neurological section, O'Brien said, and is under the care of a team headed by Dr. Desmond O'Doherty, professor and chairman of the department of neurology. The tests are intended to confirm the initial diagnosis of multiple sclerosis made by U.S. government doctors in West Germany, O'Brien said.
State Department spokesman John Trattner said later that Muskie's comments at the news conference should not be interpreted as a shift in U.S. policy in dealing with the hostage crisis. "He is not sending a signal.He is not sending a message," Trattner said. "I don't think you can read anything into it."
A State Department official said it is possible that Queen may hold a news conference, meet with other hostages' relatives and confer with U.S. officials at the State Department on Monday, if his health permits. Muskie said he has read reports about Queen's debriefing in West Germany but termed the information "classified."
Queen has so far revealed little about his months of captivity. His father indicated yesterday that the family would probably try to avoid such disclosures because of "common sense and a sense of responsibility towards the other hostages."
Queen received a warm sendoff early yesterday morning from a crowd of 200 doctors and nurses in West Germany, who clapped, shouted and waved as he was taken to an ambulance from the Air Force Hospital in Wiesbaden. Queen's father issued a departing statement to journalists there, expressing thanks for their "solicitation and concern."
At the 2 p.m. welcoming ceremony here, Muskie praised Queen for displaying "character that sustained him" during his ordeal and for holding "the American standard of courage high."